Over the past week, I received lots of responses to my post "Bring It On, Girl," both publicly and privately. I'm so glad you are joining me on my journey as a mom and an educator. Along the way, I hope you find encouragement on how to help your own kids develop reading and writing skills. Yes, the BIG question will be answered in due time (I will respond to my daughter's letter in a future post), but I wanted to address a common sentiment that some have shared...
"That's so nice that your girls write notes to you. I wish my kids would write me one!"
"Your daughter writes really well. How did you get her to write like that?
"How do you get your kids to share their feelings with you?"
So what's our secret? How do my husband and I get our kids to talk openly with us?
We listen earnestly.
I just love this quote from Catherine M. Wallace. It keeps things in perspective when my children want to show me their Pokemon cards (again), or tell me about the Shopkins they want to buy, or anytime a sentence starts with "Mama, did you know that in my Weird But True Fact Pack book, it says..." These things may seem trivial to us, but you never know when kids will tell you the big stuff. Maybe they'll whisper something important in your ear, or maybe a heart-felt note will appear in your bathroom drawer!
Our family values human connection and we intentionally nurture open dialogue. We have a few habits that encourage an environment of listening earnestly and these practices give opportunities for our girls to share with us.
1. We eat together.
We try to eat together at least once a day. Sometimes, we are rushed for breakfast, but we'll come together for dinner. We eat our meals free of distractions from tv, phones, and other devices (exceptions are made when the Warriors are playing!). During mealtimes, we talk and laugh with one another. Commonly heard phrases at our table - "Last night, I had a strange dream", "At school today, I played wall ball with my friends", "Eww, did you fart?", "Yes, you may have a third helping of pot stickers." - just typical stuff here, friends!
2. We ask them about their day.
When we first see each other after being apart for the day, we always ask each other "How was your day?" As parents, we like to follow up with "Who did you play with?" or "What was the most interesting thing you learned at school today?" Oftentimes, we get pat answers like "It was fine," or "We just learned about butterflies again." But once in a while, they will give answers which reveal insight into our kids' state of mind, who our kids' friends are, whether or not they may be facing social issues, and if they have been intrigued and fascinated by the world around them. In turn, our kids also ask us how our day went or if anything interesting happened. My husband and I will share some details about our day to share our experiences with the girls.
3. We kiss them goodnight.
We used to tuck in the girls for bed with a bedtime story, but now that they are seven and ten years old, we spend a little one-on-one time with them. We tuck them into bed by praying with them and kissing them goodnight. The bedtime ritual starts by asking them, "How can I pray for you?" or "What would you like to pray about tonight?" Most nights, the girls will give us a typical response - that they're thankful to have had a good day and hope for a good day tomorrow. On rare occasions, the girls might say something like, "Remember how I told you I played wall ball at recess? Well, Anna was mean to me and I felt sad." And when a window of opportunity opens up for us to listen to their heart, you can bet we're listening earnestly.
Friends, what do you do to create an environment where you can listen earnestly to your children? I hope that by setting up a safe space for them to talk, my girls will be honest, articulate communicators. With some luck, I hope those skills will spill over into their writing, too!
Join me for a workshop with the San Jose Area Writing Project.
We'll talk about personal narrative on February 11th and persuasive writing on March 4.
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